Monday, January 11, 2010

Album Review: The Velvet Underground

The Velvet Underground’s 3rd album is an underrated gem. After the intensity of their first 2, it’s a much lower-key experience. The artwork is predominantly black with a cool-looking black and white photo. It creeps quietly into the room with the opening track Candy Says, which is sung by Doug Yule who replaced John Cale in the band. The playing on this and most of the rest of the album is spare and simple. On the face of it, it’s a quiet poppy album, but there are moments when things are just a little off (a little guitar distortion here and there) which makes the album a little messed-up, in a good way.

The pace picks up a bit with What Goes On which jumps along nicely, Lou Reed taking vocal duties and a great guitar solo. In fact, the guitar all over this album is really good and blends in well with the quietly sung vocals. Some Kinda Love has a bit of swagger to it before 2 very quiet songs – Pale Blue Eyes and Jesus (even quieter). If there is any kind of slow anthem on this album, Pale Blue Eyes is it. It has probably the most conventional structure here, with a proper verse and chorus. Jesus is the quietest song on here, and is a kind of odd song with lyrics like “Jesus, help me find my proper place”.

The album is thrown in a different direction by the more propulsive Beginning to See the Light, which features quick-strummed guitars and some fairly unhinged vocals from Reed. It’s followed by 2 more quietish songs, I’m Set Free and That’s the Story of My Life. These, like most of the rest feature some really clean-sounding jangly guitar, quite influential on the jangly guitar bands of the 1980s.

The second last track, The Murder Mystery is a departure. Featuring more words in it than the previous 8 tracks combined, sonically it’s also quite different. If anything it harks back to Cale-era VU, with a torrent of lyrics cascading through each side of the stereo (try it with headphones, different lyrics left and right!). It sounds more eerie than the rest of the album, with ghostly-sounding guitars and thrilling stops and starts. The ending of this track is a little disappointing, with a seemingly random piano playing accompanied by yet more random lyrics. It’s not like anything else I’ve heard, that’s for sure.

Unfortunately I really don’t enjoy the closing track, After Hours, which features drummer Mo Tucker on cloying vocals. The whole tune is to my ears a little cheesy.

Overall the rest of the album is great, it’s one of those albums I dig out every so often and never get tired of it. Each time I listen to it, a little more of it reveals itself. Although it’s overshadowed by its 2 predecessors, this album endures and does not suffer with age (was released in 1968!). It's very much an album to sit and listen to in a room rather than a party album.